NFC West: Chad Henne

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- It's widely assumed the St. Louis Rams would like to trade down from their No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Whether that is the right move is debatable, but much of that discussion will hinge directly on what type of offers the Rams can get and which teams might be willing to make a bold move up for a player.

As is often the case, however, what happens in free agency can drastically alter what teams want to do in the draft. It remains to be seen how some of the moves made by teams surrounding the Rams' No. 2 pick will change plans, but let's take a look at some of the moves and what it could mean come May.

The move:The Houston Texans sign QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

What it could mean to the Rams: There is little chance that the Texans adding Fitzpatrick will change the way Houston views its need for quarterback help in the draft or even the possibility of using that top pick on a quarterback. Fitzpatrick is almost certainly going to serve as the backup to any signal caller the team drafts. I still expect Houston to go with a quarterback, like Central Florida's Blake Bortles, or South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the first choice.

The move: The Texans are expected to trade quarterback Matt Schaub to the Oakland Raiders for a late-round draft pick.

What it could mean to the Rams: It's always difficult to peg what the Raiders are thinking, but it's entirely possible they view Schaub as the starter heading into 2014. That won't preclude them from taking a quarterback with the fifth overall pick, but it might lessen their urgency to move up for a quarterback. For the Rams, the ideal scenario would have three quarterbacks going off the board in the top five picks so if they moved back to No. 6 or so they would have more options they like available. If Oakland passes on a quarterback, the chance of one of two of the top three QBs falling increases.

The moves: The Raiders sign OTs Austin Howard, Kevin Boothe and Donald Penn

What it could mean to the Rams: This could be the best news for the Rams. After things fell apart with Rodger Saffold, it looked like the Raiders might find themselves in a desperate spot for an offensive tackle. Many pundits believe the Rams' most logical trade partner for the Rams is Atlanta at No. 6. But if the Raiders needed a tackle, it could make moving all the way to No. 6 less appealing. With two tackles in the shopping cart and a youngster in Menelik Watson developing, Oakland's need at tackle isn't as pressing. That makes it entirely possible that a move to No. 6 could still leave the Rams with their choice of the top offensive tackles if that's the direction they prefer. Of course, if Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins is the target, it's hard not to think he's a strong possibility for the Raiders now. As always, though, it's important to remember the Raiders are unpredictable.

The moves: The Jacksonville Jaguars re-sign QB Chad Henne and trade QB Blaine Gabbert to the San Francisco 49ers

What it could mean to the Rams: The Jaguars haven't completely tipped their hand on their plans for the No. 3 overall pick, but have dropped the occasional hint that quarterback might not be at the top of their list. Re-signing Henne at least gives Jacksonville a veteran it can trust who knows the offense, but he's not the long-term solution. The question is whether the Jaguars would forego the chance at an elite defender like Khalil Mack or Clowney, or even a top receiver such as Watkins, to take a quarterback. Coach Gus Bradley is a defensive guy by nature, and he's built up his defense with former Seahawks pupils. Adding a player like Mack to play the "Leo" position in his defense might be too tempting to pass up. Jacksonville seems least likely to make a move up one spot in a trade, but the good news for the Rams is their needs and Jacksonville's are quite different.

The moves: The Cleveland Browns release quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell

What it could mean to the Rams: Neither move was unexpected but the Browns are now awfully thin at the game's most important position. For now, Brian Hoyer is the only quarterback on the roster with the capability to be a starter and he's coming back from injury. Cleveland might be OK allowing Hoyer to start the season but it's far-fetched to think the Browns won't add a quarterback at some point in the draft. There's been speculation the Browns might wait until pick No. 26 rather than No. 4 to add someone like Derek Carr but what if Houston passes on Bortles? If that happens and the Texans do take Clowney, the Browns and Jaguars would seem to be contenders to take Bortles. That might mean Cleveland would be tempted to trade with the Rams to jump Jacksonville. For the Rams, that's probably the ideal situation because they wouldn't have to move too far and still pick up picks. The growing sentiment that Bortles is the best quarterback in the draft would benefit the Rams if he's still there after Houston picks.
Patrick Peterson and Chad Henne AP PhotoCornerback Patrick Peterson, left, and the Cardinals could make life hard for the Jags' Chad Henne.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars finally took 0-16 off the table with their 29-27 upset of Tennessee in Nashville.

But that doesn't mean things are wonderful in Jacksonville. The team still ranks last in the NFL in total offense and rush defense and next-to-last in rushing offense.

To the Jaguars' credit, the players said those same things almost immediately after the game and have repeated them throughout the week. Finally getting that first victory doesn't change the fact that the team still has a long way to go.

The Arizona Cardinals have won back-to-back games for the second time this season and find themselves in the hunt for a playoff spot. The offense hasn't been especially productive, but the defensive front has been stellar, which is why the Cardinals are the NFL's third-best rush defense. Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss break down Sunday's matchup at EverBank Field:

DiRocco: Josh, running back Rashard Mendenhall has really struggled this season. Rookie Andre Ellington has clearly outplayed him, yet coach Bruce Arians seems to be sticking with Mendenhall. What gives?

Weinfuss: If I had the answer to that question, I would sell it to Arians, retire and be living on a beach. Nobody really knows. There are a few guesses as to why, but the most common one is that Arians is simply loyal to players he brings in. Mendenhall was Arians' handpicked running back, and the coach will go with him through thick and thin. There's also the fact that Arians doesn't consider Ellington an every-down back. Arians would rather give Mendenhall the brunt of the carries -- especially between the tackles -- while he uses Ellington out in space. That said, Arians won't shy away from using Ellington more than Mendenhall throughout the game if the rookie has the rhythm.

After getting their first win, are the Jags feeding off that momentum, or are they basking a little bit in not being a winless team?

DiRocco: The Jaguars certainly enjoyed their first victory, but I would call it a tempered excitement. In the locker room after the game, players talked about fixing mistakes and staying humble. That message was reiterated Monday and Wednesday. The players remember what happened after the Denver game. They played relatively well against the Broncos, trailing 14-12 at halftime before eventually losing by 16 in a game in which they were 28-point underdogs. They figured the progress they showed would naturally continue, but they followed that performance by playing two of their worst games of the season, against San Diego and San Francisco. The players say they've learned their lesson and that won't happen again. We'll have to see Sunday if that's the case.

Like the Jaguars, the Cardinals are searching for a long-term answer at quarterback. But they're also in contention for a playoff berth, so they're not likely to be picking near the top of the draft. Louisville standout Teddy Bridgewater, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel are probably out. So which quarterbacks to do you think they have their eyes on, and which would be the best fit?

Weinfuss: I think this draft could be the long-term answer to the Cardinals' quarterback situation. If the Cardinals end up in the playoffs, they won't be picking near the top, which means they might get their hands on a college veteran. I've liked Aaron Murray from Georgia for a long time, and I think he's the type of player who can come in and have the talent to play right away. Another guy who could benefit the Cardinals is LSU senior Zach Mettenberger. They are both pocket passers who have big arms and are smart. Mettenberger might pick up an NFL offense quicker than Murray, because he's been running an NFL offense under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Arians' offense calls for a big arm, but I think Arians is seeing what life is like in the NFC West, facing mobile quarterbacks like Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, who can run and have big arms. Both Murray and Mettenberger could benefit from playing behind Carson Palmer for another season, if the Cardinals bring Palmer back. If a slinger like Clemson's Tajh Boyd is available, I wouldn't be shocked to see him drafted. At the same time, I also wouldn't be surprised if Arizona waits on a quarterback until the second or third round, hoping a gem like Wilson is available then.

Speaking of quarterbacks, is Chad Henne the short-term or long-term answer, and what will the Jags do with Blaine Gabbert?

DiRocco: Right now, Henne gives the Jaguars a better chance to win than Gabbert, but Henne isn't the long-term answer for the franchise. The Jags' first pick in the 2014 draft -- whether it's No. 1 or not -- will almost certainly be a quarterback. That's a clear indication that the team is ready to move on without Gabbert, who was the No. 10 overall pick in 2011. I would be surprised if he's on the roster next season. Henne will be a free agent after the season and might opt to go somewhere else to compete for a starting spot. If he decides to come back to Jacksonville, it would likely be to serve as a mentor to whichever quarterback is drafted.

Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has shadowed top receivers Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith and Andre Johnson and did a good job against them. I'm assuming he'll draw Cecil Shorts on Sunday. Is that the case, and where do you think Peterson ranks among the league's top corners?

Weinfuss: If Shorts is the Jags' top receiver threat, then Peterson will most likely draw that assignment. Peterson prides himself on stopping the opponent's top receiver, as he has done in wins against Detroit and Houston -- despite two touchdowns by Andre Johnson that were barely inbounds. Peterson is no doubt one of the top two or three cornerbacks in the game, and depending on how you grade them, he could be the best. He's definitely the most athletic, but sometimes his fundamentals aren't as sound as they should be. He's shown that size doesn't matter as he takes on bigger players and makes them all but a nonfactor.

Is the Jacksonville defense better than people give it credit for, or is its 32nd ranking in stopping the run an accurate representation of the unit?

DiRocco: It's pretty bad. The defensive line, outside of Sen'Derrick Marks, has played pretty poorly. It has been physically handled way too often, has poor gap control and has had trouble with missed tackles. Linebacker Geno Hayes has been inconsistent, and there are three rookies in the secondary. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny has been terrific, but he might not play this week because of a concussion.

What comes to mind after the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals agreed on a trade sending Carson Palmer to Arizona:
  • The price: The Cardinals are sending a 2013 sixth-round pick (176th overall) and a 2014 seventh-rounder (conditional on Palmer starting at least 13 games, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter) for Palmer and the Raiders' seventh-round pick (219th overall) in 2013. Palmer has started at least 13 games in three of the past four seasons and seven times since first becoming a starter in 2004. The price in draft-choice compensation was so low because the Cardinals knew Oakland would release Palmer in the absence of a trade. General manager Steve Keim and the Cardinals' front office deserve credit for getting a starting quarterback without giving up too much. Sometimes a team acts hastily in the presence of great need, particularly when there's a powerful head coach involved. That arguably happened to an extent with the Kansas City Chiefs when they acquired Alex Smith for a second-round choice. Smith might be more appealing than Palmer, but is he that much more appealing?

  • The salary: We'll revisit initial reports on financial compensation once the numbers can be verified and put into context. Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Palmer will get $16 million over two years, with $10 million guaranteed. That makes Palmer the obvious starter. And with backup Drew Stanton having received some guaranteed money as well, he becomes the clear No. 2.
  • The protection: Cardinals quarterbacks took a league-high 58 sacks last season. The team's new coach, Bruce Arians, favors a downfield passing attack. Arians' quarterback in Indianapolis last season, Andrew Luck, was put under duress and/or hit before throwing a league-high number of times, according to ESPN Stats & Information. What does this mean for the immobile, 33-year-old Palmer? Not as much as those numbers suggest. Palmer ranked seventh among qualifying quarterbacks last season in sacks per drop back. He was at 4.4 percent, below the 5.9 percent average for 32 qualifying quarterbacks. Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan were ahead of Palmer in this category. Offensive lines deserve some blame for sacks, but quarterbacks play a huge role in them. Mobility isn't the key variable, either. Palmer gets the ball out.
  • The INTs: Palmer throws interceptions at a high rate. Perhaps he'd be better off taking a few more sacks. Palmer ranks 25th among 29 qualifying quarterbacks over the past three seasons in touchdown-to-interception ratio. Palmer is at 1.22 in this category, ahead of only Mark Sanchez (1.14), Colt McCoy (1.05), Matt Hasselbeck (1.03) and Chad Henne (0.88).
  • The impact: Palmer has been an average quarterback in recent seasons as measured by Total QBR. I would expect the Cardinals to win a few more games as a result, perhaps getting into the 8-8 range, all else equal. Arizona posted a 5-11 record last season, but that was misleading. The Cardinals went 1-11 over their final 12 games. The quarterbacking was horrendous. Ryan Lindley, John Skelton and Sanchez were the only quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts to finish with a negative number in points above replacement. That suggests they were not just below average, but also worse than replacement-level players. Palmer finished the season at plus-44.7 in this category. That was 23rd in the NFL out of 39 quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts -- not great, but so much better than Lindley or Skelton.

Back with more in a bit. I've revived Palmer-related charts that ran recently. The one below shows stats following the major injuries Palmer has suffered.

Ranking the remaining coaching vacancies

January, 16, 2013
The Chicago Bears' hiring of Marc Trestman as head coach leaves Arizona, Philadelphia and Jacksonville as the final three teams with vacancies heading toward the 2013 season.

Trestman was not a known candidate for any other job. His rather curious hiring should not affect the Cardinals in any way.

A quick look at the known candidates for the Cardinals, Eagles and Jaguars:
  • Arizona: Offensive coordinators Darell Bevell (Seattle), Jay Gruden (Cincinnati) and Todd Haley (Pittsburgh) have reportedly interviewed or will interview. Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton has already interviewed and remains on staff. Andy Reid and Mike McCoy were candidates before taking jobs elsewhere.
  • Eagles: The Eagles have interviewed and/or pursued Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley (Seattle), former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Gruden, McCoy, Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Falcons special-teams coordinator Mike Armstrong, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, and then-Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. Did I miss anyone? Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer joked that the Eagles have interviewed "every living male with a visor" to this point.
  • Jaguars: Bradley headed from his Eagles interview to meet with the Jaguars on Wednesday. Bevell and St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer also interviewed. Schottenheimer was a finalist for the job one year ago, but the Jaguars hired Mike Mularkey. Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker interviewed. San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman would be a logical candidate for the job given his success with the 49ers and close ties to new Jaguars general manager David Caldwell, Roman's former college teammate and roommate. The Jaguars were not yet conducting their coaching search when Roman was available for interviews during the window provided before divisional-round games. He remains off-limits during Championship Game week. Armstrong, the Falcons' special-teams coach, has also been mentioned as a candidate. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky sizes up the field.

The chart is an expanded version of previous ones I've produced, designed to show which openings might be most appealing from candidates' perspective. I would order them Philadelphia, Arizona and Jacksonville based on a range of factors, including quarterbacks and ownership.

While the Arizona Cardinals and four other NFL teams continue to pursue head coaching candidates, I've put together a look at what the candidates might see when considering their options.

Arizona caught a break, it appeared, when one of their candidates, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, became available earlier than expected following a divisional-round playoff defeat.

McCoy will reportedly have a second interview with the Cardinals after meeting with the San Diego Chargers.

The chart shows some of what Arizona has to offer relative to what the four other teams have to offer. Most or all of the other teams appear to have more attractive quarterback situations.

The 2012 season had to be especially tough for teams unable to acquire or develop competent quarterbacks.

While those teams were struggling, others enjoyed surprising levels of success with mere rookies behind center.

Washington's Robert Griffin III, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Indianapolis' Andrew Luck combined to go 31-16 as rookie starters this season.

Great expectations accompanied Griffin and Luck into the NFL has first-round draft choices. Wilson was as good or better than them despite his status as a third-round draft choice. I've posted their final 2012 stats in the chart at right, a resource as we consider candidates for offensive rookie of the year.

When the Jacksonville Jaguars fired their general manager Monday, I recalled that team's decision to draft a punter with the 70th overall pick. Seattle selected Wilson 75th.

Nothing against the 40.8-yard net average Bryan Anger posted for the Jaguars, but with Jacksonville quarterbacks Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert posting NFL passer ratings in the 70s while ranking 30th or worse in Total QBR, the team obviously could have used Wilson.
Thoughts after noting that the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick has gone from undisputed No. 2 quarterback as a rookie in 2011 to fighting for the role on equal footing with two others:
  • Going from second to third on the depth chart would look like a regression for Kaepernick, but it might not mean much for the long term. Circumstances have changed. Alex Smith outperformed expectations last season, earning a new contract and tightening his grip on the starting position. The team signed Josh Johnson, Jim Harbaugh's former quarterback at the University of San Diego. Scott Tolzien, another passer the 49ers liked coming out of college, has gained some seasoning.
  • Kaepernick was facing a significant transition from the system he ran in college. His development was going to take time. It'll be good for him to get extensive reps in the preseason, but Johnson will need playing time, too. The goal, of course, is to upgrade the quarterback position, not to make sure Kaepernick appears instantly worthy of the second-round choice San Francisco used to select him. As coach Jim Harbaugh said on the day the 49ers drafted Kaepernick: "We believe in competition. We believe in earning positions around here."
  • The 49ers ideally would have found competition for Kaepernick last offseason. A lockout-shortened signing period complicated those efforts. That cleared the way for Kaepernick to land the No. 2 job unopposed. The 49ers got away with having an inexperienced backup when Smith started all 16 games, plus two playoff games, without encountering the injury problems that sidelined him in past seasons.
  • There's no precedent for developing quarterbacks drafted in second rounds. Each situation has its own dynamics. A year ago, developing Kaepernick on a fast schedule seemed important. Those still skeptical of Smith might feel that way yet. But Johnson, with more experience than Kaepernick, might be better prepared to take over a playoff-caliber team on short notice should Smith struggle or suffer an injury. It's up to Kaepernick to prove otherwise.

As the chart shows, five of the nine second-round quarterbacks drafted from 2007 to 2011 were third-stringers or had been released heading into their second regular seasons. Chad Henne and Kevin Kolb were second string. Andy Dalton remains a starter heading into his second year. Brock Osweiler, a second-rounder in Denver this year, hasn't had a second season, obviously.

NFC West thoughts as NFL free agency runs through its second day:
  • The Seattle Seahawks' free-agent visit with Steve Hutchinson calls attention to the team's situation at left guard. Robert Gallery's $5 million salary and $1.5 million bonus represent a steep price. If the Seahawks are going to pay $6.5 million for a left guard in 2012, Hutchinson would appear to be the better value. Re-signing Paul McQuistan for depth at guard and tackle could also make sense. Update: The Seahawks have announced Gallery's release and McQuistan's re-signing.
  • Free-agent quarterback Chad Henne canceled his visit to the Seahawks after reaching an agreement on a contract with Jacksonville. Seattle still plans to meet with Matt Flynn, but the team has proven it will show restraint at the position when dealing with unproven prospects. That was the case last offseason when Seattle resisted acquiring Kevin Kolb. Flynn fits into a similar category.
  • The San Francisco 49ers continue to consider a long list of options at wide receiver. Brandon Lloyd, Chaz Schilens and Mario Manningham are possibilities. Eddie Royal could become an option as well, Matt Barrows reports. The 49ers obviously hope to cover themselves at the position in free agency, taking off pressure to target any one position early in the draft.
  • Former 49ers guard/tackle/center Adam Snyder gives the Cardinals improved depth on their offensive line. Losing him can be a positive for the 49ers if it forces them to seek an upgrade at the position. Veteran players such as Snyder are easy to coach. Sometimes teams get comfortable with them at the expense of upgrading. The 49ers came out OK last offseason after losing center David Baas to the Giants.
  • The Seahawks and St. Louis Rams both have interest in former Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jason Jones. Jones struggled at defensive end last season. He would play tackle with the Rams or Seahawks. St. Louis has the greater need. Seattle could use Jones as depth behind Red Bryant and as an inside pass-rusher.
  • Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne plans to visit New Orleans. The Saints should know him well. Hawthorne had a combined 21 tackles and one interception against New Orleans in two games during the 2010 season (one in postseason). He faced the Rams six times when new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was head coach in St. Louis. Hawthorne is an NFL success story as an undrafted free-agent-turned-starter. Seattle needs help at linebacker whether or not Hawthorne returns. K.J. Wright can move from the strong side to the middle if needed.
  • The Cardinals remain largely in a holding pattern while awaiting a decision from Peyton Manning. Other veteran free-agent quarterbacks are signing deals around the league. That's no big deal for Arizona if the Cardinals are comfortable paying a $7 million bonus to keep Kolb. But if Manning signs elsewhere and Arizona wants to sign a cheaper alternative to Kolb, the pickings could be slim. Matt Hasselbeck comes to mind if Manning lands in Tennessee.
  • The Rams' interest in former Houston Texans tackle Eric Winston has led to a potential visit.

Thanks for coming along.
The Seattle Seahawks did not rush into NFL free agency determined to land a quarterback at any cost.

Unable to get Peyton Manning's attention to this point, they appear comfortable letting a soft quarterback market come to them. Matt Flynn (Green Bay) and Chad Henne (Miami) are two free agents the team plans to meet with later in the week, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

Neither Flynn nor Henne appears likely to receive starting money from the team. Both would presumably compete with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson if brought onto the roster.

Free agency opened amid questions about how the NFL would value Flynn. With teams awaiting a decision from Manning, the market could be suffering from paralysis. But if Flynn were viewed universally as a franchise quarterback, the Packers might have traded him a year ago or named him their franchise player to facilitate a trade this offseason.

The Seahawks showed last offseason a reluctance to commit starting money to an unproven quarterback. That explained why they were content watching Arizona acquire Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia and hand him a $10 million signing bonus. A year later, Kolb remains unproven while the Cardinals, having already invested $12 million in Kolb, decide whether to pay him another $8.5 million in salary and bonuses for the upcoming season.

Quarterbacks often have more value before teams have seen them play extensively. That was the case with Kolb last offseason. It could be the case with Flynn. Henne, meanwhile, has played enough for teams to realize he probably isn't a long-term solution. He has 31 touchdowns, 37 interceptions and a 13-18 starting record, all with Miami.
The Arizona Cardinals, aggressive in free agency one year ago, watched from the sideline Tuesday while other teams signed players.

They had fewer perceived needs, for one, but they also needed to know whether Peyton Manning planned to sign with them.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the team will remain in a holding pattern until the Manning situation gains clarity. Their approach to creating room under the salary cap hung in the balance. Somers: "If he picks the Cardinals, the team likely will let Kevin Kolb go, saving itself from paying the bonus [$7 million to Kolb by Friday]. If Manning chooses another team by then, the Cardinals probably will keep Kolb and pay the bonus. If Manning hasn't picked a team by then, the Cardinals have a difficult choice. Do they let Kolb go and gamble that they will get Manning? How confident would they be entering the season with John Skelton and Rich Bartel as the only quarterbacks on the roster? Or, do they keep Kolb and end their pursuit of Manning?" Noted: Kolb would obviously be out if the team signed Manning. But the bonus payment is large enough to raise questions independent of any decision Manning makes. Paying the bonus would be more difficult if the Cardinals werent' sure whether Kolb would be better than backup John Skelton, who is scheduled to earn $490,000 in salary for the 2012 season.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' needs transcend any one position. Also: "I don't think Gregg Williams' status will impact free agency. By now it seems obvious that the NFL will wallop Williams hard with a lengthy suspension. Even with the bounty-system scandal, Williams is popular, and will remain popular, among NFL defensive players that have worked for him. Sure, that could be a selling point. But it's not as if the Rams have a coaching staff of wallflowers out there. Fisher, Dave McGinnis and other assistants, including Chuck Cecil, are live wires. They'll have no problem creating the kind of jacked-up, tough-guy mindset that appeals to defensive players. And if McGinnis takes over as defensive coordinator, let's just remember that he's always been a respected and admired coach in the league. And we'll say it one more time: money tends to buy loyalty."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' were aggressive in landing Cortland Finnegan, but the situation at receiver remained unsettled. He says the Rams were trying to set up a visit with Robert Meachem before the free-agent wideout from New Orleans reached agreement with San Diego.

Jeff Gordon of looks at recent Rams roster moves.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis updates the Rams' outlook in free agency. Balzer: "The Rams are expecting a visit Thursday from Detroit quarterback Shaun Hill and possibly tackle Eric Winston, who was released Tuesday by the Houston Texans."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' apparent interest in Chad Henne came as a surprise. O'Neil: "Henne, 26, is scheduled to visit Jacksonville before departing for Seattle, where he's expected to arrive Wednesday. Henne had a 13-18 record as the starting quarterback the past three seasons in Miami."

Also from O'Neil: What is David Hawthorne worth to Seattle? O'Neil: "Maybe the Seahawks plan to go young at that position. K.J. Wright -- a fourth-round pick last year -- is the only starting linebacker currently under contract for 2012, and then there's Malcolm Smith, a seventh-round pick who runs well, but has had trouble staying healthy. In two years, we've seen that Seattle is willing to tighten its belt and make changes, but we haven't seen what kind of linebackers the Seahawks want to invest in and keep around. In that regard, Hawthorne's free agency is something worth watching."

Matt Maiocco of offers a quick free-agency scorecard for the San Francisco 49ers. Maiocco: "The 49ers' defense appears to be set with the late push Tuesday night to re-sign cornerback Carlos Rogers. ... The only change to the lineup in 2012 is the anticipated promotion of outside linebacker Aldon Smith to take Parys Haralson's starting job at right outside linebacker. General manager Trent Baalke said the 49ers plan for Smith, a pass-rush specialist as a rookie in 2011, to take a full-time role."

Also from Maiocco: various 49ers notes, including one about special-teams ace Blake Costanzo, who signed with Chicago. Maiocco: "The 49ers want their special-teams players to be able to play defense, too, and the personnel department did not consider Costanzo as an option at inside linebacker, if he were needed behind Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee runs through the 49ers' first day of free agency. Barrows: "Day One of free agency began and ended without a deal for quarterback Alex Smith, another player the team wants back. For the first time since the 49ers drafted him in 2005, Smith has no formal contract or deal in hand with them, although there is a three-year offer on the table. Team president Jed York on Monday seemed confident the two sides would reach a compromise but said the 'ball's in his court,' an indication the 49ers feel Smith and his representatives are the ones holding up a contract."
Ten thoughts as NFL free agency moves through its sixth hour:
  • Red Bryant's re-signing in Seattle stands as the biggest NFC West-related signing to this point, trailed by Josh Morgan's departure from San Francisco to Washington. News on the quarterback front remains slow. If the Seahawks consider former Miami starter Chad Henne, they will not be talking big money.
  • The Chaz Schilens market should be fascinating to watch unfold over the next month. Alas, for all the hype surrounding the few big-name free agents hitting the NFL market Tuesday, lesser-known role players such as Schilens are carrying much of the conversation in this division. Schilens, a part-time starter in Oakland with 72 catches over four seasons, visited Arizona and plans to visit San Francisco.
  • San Francisco appears increasingly justified for signing Randy Moss as free-agent options dissipate. We can remove Vincent Jackson's name from the list of prominent receivers potentially under consideration; he's headed to Tampa Bay on a five-year deal. Pierre Garcon is also off the market, having joined Morgan in reaching agreement with the Redskins. The chart below shows current and recent 49ers receivers, ranked from oldest to youngest. Moss and Michael Crabtree could use some company.
  • Deals for Jackson and other wideouts stand to affect Mike Wallace's asking price, but market conditions are far less favorable for restricted free agents. Wallace, arguably the NFL's top deep threat, remains available for any team willing to make an offer the Steelers would not match. The signing team would have to part with a first-round pick. The 49ers appear less likely to do so after signing Moss.
  • Jim Thomas is pointing to Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan as the Rams' top priority at cornerback in free agency. That means the 49ers' Carlos Rogers is not the Rams' top priority at the position, despite Rogers' ties to Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. What is the market for Rogers? Might the 49ers sign him in the future? They appear to be moving on at the position, though it's too early to say for certain. Update: The Rams have agreed to terms with Finnegan, Adam Schefter reports.
  • The Cardinals, having done well to land Daryn Colledge in free agency last offseason, are in the market for another guard. The Titans' Jake Scott is visiting, Thomas and Kent Somers note. Scott turns 31 next month and has started 120 consecutive regular-season games, the second-longest streak for an active guard. Scott played at Idaho while Colledge, 30, was at Boise State.
  • Looks like Seattle and St. Louis have interest in Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones. The Rams would presumably have the inside track. Jones played for new Rams coach Jeff Fisher. St. Louis also has the greater need. The Rams are starting over at defensive tackle.
  • It's tough to know for sure just how hard teams are chasing after certain players. Agents tend to err on the side of overstatement while attempting to build markets for their clients. Too frequently, the same goes for contract figures. Arizona's Kevin Kolb supposedly received $21 million in "guaranteed" money last offseason, but if the Cardinals cut him this week, he'll leave with $12 million -- great money for one partial season as a starter, but not $21 million.
  • The Seahawks could not justify naming tight end John Carlson their franchise player, but re-signing him would give them very good depth at the position. The fact that Carlson visited Kansas City right away shows he's eager to check out opportunities elsewhere, however.
  • The Rams have so far held onto 2009 first-round pick Jason Smith. They could keep him, but with Houston unexpectedly releasing Eric Winston, the Rams will visit with him, Schefter reports. The Rams could do much worse than having Winston and Harvey Dahl on the right side.

Now, on to the chart showing 49ers wide receivers with the team currently or in the recent past ...

LuckWatch: Bradford trade considerations

October, 27, 2011
Andrew LuckSteve Conner/Icon SMIStanford's Andrew Luck has thrown for 1,888 yards and 20 touchdowns so far this season.
No one knows for sure whether Andrew Luck is the next great NFL quarterback, the next first-round bust or something in between.

For now, the Stanford quarterback projects as the franchise-saving reward for some poor NFL team careening through an otherwise lost 2011 season.

But what if the team holding the No. 1 overall choice already has a franchise quarterback?

Four of the five teams with no more than one victory this season fall into that category, as the chart explains. I suspect Peyton Manning's age and injury situation would compel Indianapolis to draft a quarterback first overall if given the opportunity, but what if the St. Louis Rams held the top pick?

The Rams already invested millions in Sam Bradford. They like him very much despite what has been a rough second season for him. But if the team continues losing in a noncompetitive fashion, changes could sweep through Rams Park. New leadership could, in theory, seek a fresh start across the board -- including at quarterback.

Blasphemy, right? Hear me out.

While keeping Bradford and trading the No. 1 overall pick sounds attractive in theory, teams drafting lower could call the Rams' bluff. They could wait until draft day, then maneuver for the second overall choice, betting against the Rams taking another quarterback.

The Rams' 0-6 start has exposed holes throughout their roster. They need additional draft choices to restock a depth chart featuring too many Al Harris and Ben Leber types. Bradford would fetch quite a few picks from a team needing a quarterback.

Contract-wise, Luck would cost about half as much as Bradford cost, thanks to the new labor deal. When it comes to the salary cap, where there's a will, there's a way.

Under this scenario, the Rams could trade Bradford outside the division and even outside the conference. Cleveland would rank atop my list of destinations. Browns executive Mike Holmgren values quarterbacks, and he has additional picks from the draft-day trade with Atlanta. Browns coach Pat Shurmur was Bradford's coordinator in 2010, so Bradford could make a smooth transition to an offense he knows well.

It's a lot to digest, but time is on our side. We're still 182 days from the 2012 draft. The chart below shows the five teams with fewer than two victories.

In one month's time, we've gone from discussing the St. Louis Rams' playoff prospects to how they might handle the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

The chances suddenly appear very real. The Rams are 0-4 heading into their bye week. Their top receiver and top three cornerbacks are out for the season. Their remaining receivers lead the NFL in dropped passes. Their offensive line and defensive front seven aren't meeting expectations. Their quarterback is on pace to absorb 72 sacks, three shy of the NFL record.

Amid those troubling indicators, the Rams visit Green Bay and Dallas before returning home for a game against New Orleans. They then play two more games on the road before a four-game stretch of NFC West matchups. They have a road game against Pittsburgh later in the year.

Six division games in the final nine weeks still might save the Rams, but if the Arizona Cardinals could go 1-5 against the NFC West in 2010, which they did, the Rams in their current state could finish in that range.

To the point: The Rams already have 2010 No. 1 overall choice Sam Bradford on their roster. They're not in the market for a quarterback. They would have some thinking to do if sitting atop the 2012 draft with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck available.

Let's get this conversation going.

Matt from Tucson, Ariz., asks whether the Seattle Seahawks would move to acquire the first pick from St. Louis.

Mike Sando: Yes, the Seahawks would certainly consider that type of move for a quarterback, in my view. I just do not see the Rams helping a division rival land a franchise quarterback. Instead, if the Rams traded the pick, I would look for them to deal it to an AFC team located far, far away. Miami?

Tim from Olympia, Wash., asks whether the Rams would consider trading Bradford if they entered the 2012 draft in position to draft Andrew Luck.

Mike Sando: Interesting concept. I question whether that would work very well from a salary-cap standpoint. I do not think the Rams' current leadership would consider making that move. If new leadership were in place, anything could be possible. But an organization cannot casually consider trading its franchise quarterback without risking its relationship with that player. The team would have to know for certain it could get a deal done.

William from Bloomington, Ind., isn't ready to give up on the Rams just yet given their second-half schedule, but he wonders what the team could expect the top pick to fetch. He notes that the Atlanta Falcons gave up quite a bit in moving up to the sixth pick in 2011.

Mike Sando: The Falcons paid such a high price because they were moving up from so far down in the draft order (27th overall). Any team moving up for Luck would likely be doing so from nearer the top of the order. Still, the price would have to be high. Multiple teams could be bidding, as well.

San Diego, having whiffed on Ryan Leaf in 1998, traded the first pick of the 2001 draft to Atlanta for the fifth pick, the 67th pick, a second-rounder the next year and receiver Tim Dwight. The Falcons then took Michael Vick. Rams general manager Billy Devaney had already left the Chargers when that deal went down.

The Cleveland Browns picked first overall in 2000, one season after making quarterback Tim Couch the top pick. That was an odd situation, however, because the 2000 draft featured no quarterbacks taken before Chad Pennington at No. 18. The Browns took defensive end Courtney Brown first overall.

The Indianapolis Colts picked fourth overall in 1999, a year after they took Peyton Manning first overall. Quarterbacks went 1-2-3 before the Colts made Edgerrin James the fourth player taken in that 2000 class.

Rob from Augusta, Ga., asks whether Josh McDaniels' hiring in St. Louis has done more harm than good because the personnel was acquired for another system. He thought a conservative, West Coast system helped the Rams compete in 2010, and he fears the team will need years to build its roster for McDaniels' more aggressive approach. He also thinks it's clear the Rams needed to pursue a top-flight receiver more aggressively.

Mike Sando: The Rams did not want to change coordinators. Pat Shurmur's departure forced the Rams to make a choice. They could promote continuity by hiring someone familiar with the system Shurmur was running. Or, they could search for the best candidate they could find, regardless of system. They chose the latter approach with an eye toward the longer term because they thought McDaniels was an excellent candidate.

This was before the lockout, at a time when teams did not know how the offseason would unfold. The Rams' thinking seemed sound at the time. In retrospect, I don't think the offense would be dramatically better had the team gone with someone else at coordinator. Injuries have played a significant role in the Rams' struggles.

Your thinking at wide receiver makes sense. The Rams were among the few who thought they were OK at the position in terms of top-end talent. McDaniels had gotten good production from Brandon Lloyd in Denver, counter to outside expectations, so there was some thought he might coax similar production from players already on the Rams' roster. While Danny Amendola was the one receiver he could least afford to lose, it's fair to say the Rams failed to sufficiently protect themselves at a position decimated by injuries in 2010.

Mackay from Pleasant Grove, Utah, thought the Arizona Cardinals failed to use play-action passes against the New York Giants even though Beanie Wells was on his way to a 27-carry, 138-yard performance. He would expect play-action passes to help Kevin Kolb, but wonders whether lack of success has steered the Cardinals away from using that tactic.

Mike Sando: It's a little early in the season to draw conclusions from the Cardinals' use of play-action passes. This is an area to monitor as the season progresses.

Kolb completed 4 of 7 passes for 78 yards and one interception against the Giants on play-action passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has completed 12 of 22 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown, one interception and two sacks on play-action plays this season. Twenty-four quarterbacks have more play-action attempts than Kolb this season. Fourteen quarterbacks have at least 30 attempts.

Kolb ranks 24th in Total QBR (52.9) and NFL passer rating (87.5) on play-action passes this season. His yards per attempt on these throws, 10.5, ranks fifth in the league behind Matt Stafford, Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo and Chad Henne. But four of those players (all but Henne) are completing at least 75 percent of these passes. Kolb is at 54.5 percent, which ranks 26th among the 32 quarterbacks with more than 10 such attempts.

Colin from Santa Rosa, Calif., agrees that San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman has stood out this season, but he says this doesn't reflect poorly on teammate Patrick Willis. "It doesn't seem like Willis has stepped back at all," he writes. "Takeo Spikes isn't there eating up blocks, so Willis is having to take on more of that duty, and offenses are targeting Willis with more resources anyway, freeing up Bowman."

Mike Sando: One question would be to what degree the 49ers' new defense in combination with Bowman's abilities has affected what the team asks from its inside linebackers. I appreciate your points and will explore this subject in greater detail as the season progresses.

Terrell from San Francisco likes what he sees from the 49ers' front seven, but he thinks the team needs a playmaking safety to pair with Willis, giving San Francisco something along the lines of what Baltimore has enjoyed with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed working together.

Mike Sando: The 49ers had a chance to add a playmaking safety in the 2010 draft, but they traded up for right tackle Anthony Davis instead of drafting free safety Earl Thomas. The 49ers then used their second-round choice for safety Taylor Mays. I see absolutely no way to justify those decisions based on what we've seen from those players so far.

The 49ers' efforts to upgrade their offensive line by drafting Davis and guard Mike Iupati made sense in theory, but Davis hasn't become nearly the player Thomas has become, and Mays lasted only one season with the team. Worse, the 49ers will have to play against Thomas twice a season for years to come.

Ranking the NFC West quarterbacks

August, 29, 2011
Scouts Inc.'s ratings for NFL quarterbacks, available to Insider subscribers, raise a few questions:
  • Why is Sam Bradford so low? The St. Louis Rams' second-year quarterback can do little wrong in these parts. Fans from other NFC West teams occasionally point to Bradford's weak rookie passer rating as evidence he's overrated. Others point to the Rams' dire situation at wide receiver last season and a six-game improvement in the standings as evidence Bradford is the real deal. The bottom line is that Bradford has shown the right mental makeup and physical skills to improve. He should move into the top 10 to 15 spots this season.
  • Kevin Kolb is below Chad Henne? Yep. Henne is ranked No. 23, two spots higher than Kolb. The Scouts Inc. analysis for Henne stresses arm strength -- specifically, the ability to drive the ball into "tight windows" -- as a leading characteristic for him. Kolb's profile suggests he can make the necessary throws, but cannot fit the ball into said windows as easily. Henne has never thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in a season. Kolb has more picks than touchdowns for his career. It's a huge, huge disappointment in Arizona and a surprise to me if Kolb throws more picks than scoring passes this season.
  • What more can we say about Alex Smith? Not much. We've heard it all before. New system, new opportunities, renewed efforts at leadership, all-around good-guyness. Niners fans care only about results as Smith enters his seventh season with the team. I get it, but this is all new for coach Jim Harbaugh. Smith's baggage means much less to him. One big difference this season is that Smith's contract lines up with his value. The organization isn't betting on him as its long-term starter. He's a stopgap until he proves otherwise. Smith is getting paid good money for a backup, not-so-good money for a starter.
  • Tarvaris Jackson over Charlie Whitehurst? Yes, and it's not even close in these rankings, which were put together before the preseason games. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. has subsequently called Jackson the worst starting quarterback in the league, and a player he wouldn't want even as a backup. Jackson, like the 49ers' Smith, has suffered behind shaky pass protection this summer. In quickly naming Jackson their starter, the Seahawks have gone out of their way as an organization to give him the support he needs. He's getting the opposite treatment on the field, which cannot be good for his confidence.

And now, on to the chart. Rookies and recently released players are not ranked.

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers after checking out ESPN's 300 highest-rated fantasy players for the 2011 season:

Vernon Davis ranks second among 49ers players and only fifth among NFL tight ends despite 20 touchdown receptions over the past two seasons, more than any NFL player at the position over that span.

It's possible Braylon Edwards' addition will give the 49ers another threat in the red zone. He caught six passes, three for touchdowns, on plays originating inside opponents' 20-yard line last season. Davis had 11 receptions, six for touchdowns, on plays from that area of the field last season. Corresponding numbers for Michael Crabtree last season: four receptions, three touchdowns.

Alex Smith ranks 28th among quarterbacks, between Chad Henne and Cam Newton. That seems low for Smith, but durability is a concern and it's not clear how quickly coach Jim Harbaugh might consider a change at the position. Would he want to get a few starts for rookie Colin Kaepernick at some point this season if Smith were just playing at a so-so level?

Unranked fantasy sleeper: Backup tight end Delanie Walker caught 29 passes last season, a career high. Harbaugh likes to feature tight ends. Davis will cast the longest shadow among this position group, making it tough for Walker or any other tight end to put up strong numbers. There's at least a chance Walker sees his production spike some this season.